Inter Miami enjoy "dream" start, even without Josef Martínez's milestone


If you drew up a season-opening victory for Inter Miami CF – the club’s first such accomplishment since joining MLS in 2020 – odds are one of Josef Martínez or Leonardo Campana would be on the goalscorer’s sheet.

That hypothetical didn’t arrive for the Herons’ headlining strikers Saturday evening, but the club nonetheless began their 2023 campaign with momentum by spoiling CF Montréal’s debut under manager Hernan Losada, 2-0, at DRV PNK Stadium.

In some ways, Miami picked up where they left off last year when they earned the Eastern Conference's No. 6 seed for the Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs.

“It was a different feeling around this football club,” said Miami head coach Phil Neville. “Over the last 12 months – and we spoke before the game about the start of the journey – I do feel as if this is not the start of the journey. I feel as if this is just a continuation of the journey that we started last season.”

More to come

That journey, in 2022, was sparked by midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo arriving via a summertime trade with Toronto FC and a late-career renaissance from legendary Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuaín. But Pozuelo is reportedly signing in the Turkish Süper Lig and Higuaín has retired, taking his scintillating form into life’s next chapter.

Thus, Miami’s attack – at least in concept (for now) – is supposed to feed Martínez and Campana. The former, the 2018 Landon Donovan MLS MVP, arrived this offseason on a non-Designated Player deal after his contract buyout at Atlanta United. The latter, a Young DP, is now in south Florida permanently after his previous loan from English Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers.

In due course, Neville is confident Martínez will find the net. The star Venezuelan is on 98 goals in 135 regular-season games, two tallies short of joining the league’s esteemed 100-goals club. Martínez could become the fastest-ever to reach that milestone, a mark currently held by MLS Season Pass analyst and New York Red Bulls legend Bradley Wright-Phillips (100 goals in 159 regular-season games).

“There's more to come,” Neville said of Martínez. “But I do think with his standard and his presence, he occupies defenders. He definitely occupies defenders because they know he's playing on the shoulder. They know he's a threat. Sometimes when Josef leaves the ball, sometimes without touching it, he actually makes us even more unpredictable. He brings players into the game.”

Meanwhile, Neville said Campana missed out on the match with a minor calf strain. The Ecuadorian international played in 26 matches last year amid some injuries, yet was still Miami’s second-leading scorer with 11g/2a.

“We were all a little bit frustrated yesterday because we'd obviously planned the whole game plan around Leo and Josef playing,” said Neville. “We had trust in the players that were coming in and we now hope Leo comes back as quickly as possible. He's a big player for us. If we're going to be successful, Leo has to play. And if he plays, he'll score goals just like Josef will.”

Debut goals

Which brings us to Miami’s actual goalscorers against Montréal, both of whom scored on their club debut. The first arrived in the 41st minute via center back Sergii Kryvtsov, the club’s new backline anchor and a Ukrainian international who joined last month from UEFA Champions League regulars Shakhtar Donetsk. Kryvtsov bundled home a flicked-on corner kick, resulting in a situation he “couldn’t even dream about.”

“It was beautiful,” said Kryvtsov. “I forgot how it is to play with fans; because of the situation in Ukraine we cannot play with fans and today was great. Thanks to our fans for this great experience.”

Miami sealed the deal in the 76th minute via homegrown signing and Haitian international striker Shanyder Borgelin. After a pinball-like sequence, Borgelin settled an encounter where six Miami players made their club debut. DP midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro also returned to the starting lineup following his 2022 loan to Liga MX’s CF Monterrey.

“Every time Borgelin\] played for the [MLS NEXT Pro team last year he scored goals, came to the box, scored goals,” Neville said. “And I remember sitting with David [Beckham] one game and I said this kid could score and he said every time I watch him, he scores goals. So we know that he's going to be a big threat for us.”

Neville and Miami hope they’re tapping into a fountain of youth via their academy. Highly-rated homegrown and US youth international midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi also made his first-team debut.

“We've got big hopes for our young players,” said Neville. “They're going to get minutes, they're going to get opportunities, we're going to go for it. We know with young players like this, there's going to be peaks and troughs. There's going to be mistakes. There's going to be unbelievable performances and it's going to be performances where they need to learn and we're going to have to protect someone, put them in at the right time. But I think today was a signal of our intent.”

To avoid an early-season setback, Miami will likely need to raise their level on Matchday 2 when welcoming Philadelphia Union to Fort Lauderdale on March 4 (7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass). The Eastern Conference favorites are coming off a 4-1 throttling of the Columbus Crew.